10 start-up tips for restaurant operators

July 5, 2013

By Michael Adams

A lot of people dream of starting their own restaurant. Whether it's a bakery, bar, or burger joint, the same principles apply: You want to build a popular restaurant with a loyal following.

But it's hard to figure everything out if you haven't done it before.

For starters, there are laws and regulations, food to order and a team to hire. Below are 10 tips to put you on the right path to restaurant start-up success.

1. Find a location with high foot traffic

Sounds obvious, right? But location plays an important role in restaurant success. Do your homework to find a location you can afford with a large population of people. Even if you have a location with tons of offices and a thriving downtown, it's important to market your restaurant. You can't simply open your doors and expect throngs of people. And that leads to No. 2.

2. Start Facebook and Twitter accounts before you open

When you're getting ready to open your doors, there are hundreds of loose ends you need to tie up. Often that means marketing your restaurant on social media falls toward the bottom of the priority list. But, social media is key to building up demand for your eats and brews. Facebook and Twitter are free, so why not drum up support for your restaurant early?

3. Build an incredible team from the beginning

Just like any company, the team you hire to build your restaurant decides your fate. Why? Let's just say you hire young, inexperienced staff because you can pay them less. Unfortunately, it might cost you in customer service. Hire an outstanding team that not only delivers great service, but believes in your restaurant. A passionate team quickly gets you to restaurant success.

4. Start with a small menu

A lot of new restaurants start out with an ambitious menu — one that is pages long and causes the kitchen to bottleneck with hard-to-produce entrees. Starting small has several benefits. It makes choosing a dish easier for customers and it allows your kitchen staff to get up to speed. As you grow and learn what your customers are demanding, find a happy medium with menu size and what your kitchen can deliver.

5. Provide unparalleled customer service

It's happened before: The server screws up your order, they bring the wrong drink, and they refuse to 86 items from your bill for poor customer service. Don't let this happen to your restaurant. Provide stellar service to your guests — regardless if your restaurant is quick-service or upscale. Impeccable service is a given.

6. Reward your customers

Customers love to be rewarded with free food, drinks, or appetizers for their loyal patronage. To run a loyalty program well, it might be worth getting customer loyalty software that keeps track of each customer's visit frequency, meals they've ordered, and party size. That way, you're able to tailor specific rewards to different customers.

7. Offer something different

Frozen food is not different. I recently discovered a new restaurant where everything was frozen. How could I tell? There was no creativity in the sandwiches, sides, or desserts. This won't bring your restaurant wild success. Instead, look at what other restaurants around yours are offering and do something different. Maybe it's homemade dessert or a huge nacho tower. Whatever it be, work to make yourself known for something.

8. Give back to the community

Free food brings a crowd — and not just in college. Find a couple of community events to bring your food to before you open. This generates buzz for your restaurant and helps you build an email list of locals wondering when you're going to open your doors.

9. Offer online reservations and ordering

Sure, it takes some logistics to figure out, but many restaurants aren't hopping on the online bandwagon. There's online ordering, reservations, loyalty programs, etc. Offer all of them from the beginning. Online reservations are convenient and online ordering opens your restaurant to the busy professional looking for a quick (and delicious) bite to eat, rather than a full-course, sit-down meal.

10. Work your butt off

Small business owners don't work 40-hour weeks, and restaurateurs are no exception. Be prepared for 90 to 100 hours per week doing every task under the sun. Make sure you've got a support network to lean on — it makes hard days so much better when you're able to relax with friends and family after a tough dinner service.

Michael Adams is the marketing manager at Fourtopper, a provider of websites for restaurants, cafes and bars.

Photo provided by Wikimedia.

Topics: Customer Service / Experience , Marketing / Branding / Promotion , Operations Management

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